Labor union chief calls immigration bill dangerous, sees agency as ‘approval machine’

Published on May 20th, 2013

Photo by: Ross D. Franklin//Illegal immigrants prepare to enter a bus after being processed at the U.S. Border Patrol's Tucson Sector headquarters on Aug. 9, 2012, in Tucson, Ariz. (Associated Press)

By Stephen Dinan
The Washington Times

Monday, May 20, 2013

The Senate’s immigration bill will raise national security risks and the Obama administration will do little more than “rubber-stamp” illegal immigrants into the program, endangering Americans, says the labor union representing the 12,000 employees who will have to approve the applications.

Kenneth Palinkas, president of the American Federation of Government Employees Council 119, which represents officers and staff at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, will deliver a damning critique of the Senate bill Monday, according to a copy of his statement obtained by The Washington Times.

His statement goes well beyond the current debate, portraying an agency intent on approving as many illegal immigrants as possible.

“The culture at USCIS encourages all applications to be approved, discouraging proper investigation into red flags and discouraging the denial of any applications,” his remarks say. “USCIS has been turned into an ‘approval machine.’”

The union becomes the second key Homeland Security Department labor group to oppose the bill. Its opposition dents the bill and deals a blow to the AFL-CIO — the coalition of labor unions that has put major legislative muscle behind the bill this year but is seeing its members peel off.

Mr. Palinkas says the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” senators who wrote the Senate bill never talked to the USCIS and that the legislation is riddled with special-interest loopholes and shirks security checks.

“The legislation was written with special interests — producing a bill that makes the current system worse, not better,” Mr. Palinkas‘ remarks say. The bill “will damage public safety and national security and should be opposed by lawmakers.”

That was the same complaint made by Chris Crane, chief of the union representing agents and officers of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Mr. Crane has said the Senate bill would hurt ICE agents’ ability to enforce the law.

But the USCIS officers’ opposition could be even more potent. They describe themselves as the “backbone” of any legalization effort — the officers who will have to review each application and decide whether it meets the standards and whether the person is a security risk.

Their warnings could carry weight with lawmakers worried about a repeat of the amnesty in 1986, when hundreds of thousands of immigrants defrauded the system. All sides say they want to avoid the same scenario.

Chief among the USCIS union’s worries is the way the administration has handled President Obama’s non-deportation policy for “Dreamers” — illegal immigrants who arrived as children and who the Obama administration has said should not be deported.

Last year, Mr. Obama announced a policy titled Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals that grants a two-year stay of deportation and work permits.

The latest statistics show that the administration is approving almost every application it receives: 99.2 percent of all applications decided through the end of April, according to numbers released Friday.

About 500,000 applications have been submitted in the 8 months the deferred action has been available. Of those, 291,859 have been approved while 2,352 have been denied. The rest are still in processing.

The action is seen as a test-run should Congress pass the Senate’s legalization bill, which would apply to a broad swath of 11 million illegal immigrants estimated to be in the U.S.

Mr. Palinkas said the reason so many deferred action applicants are being approved is because the Obama administration has determined that they don’t need in-person interviews, which “virtually guarantees widespread fraud and places public safety at risk.”

The Senate Judiciary Committee is working its way through hundreds of amendments to the bill written by the Gang of Eight.

The crux of the bill gives quick legal status to illegal immigrants but withholds the full path to citizenship until the Homeland Security Department spends more on border security, puts an electronic verification system for workers into place and creates a working entry-exit system to check visitors as they come and go at airports and seaports.

Obama administration officials cheered the progress from the sidelines Sunday.

“Comprehensive immigration reform is continuing to move forward in the Senate. That’s a really good sign,” White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer told CNN’s “State of the Union” program Sunday.

The ICE and USCIS union objections could become a problem for the AFL-CIO, which enthusiastically embraced the bill this year.

Mr. Crane has accused the AFL-CIO of “threatening” those who disagreed with its stance.

The AFL-CIO has put major muscle behind this year’s push for the Senate bill, having negotiated terms of the legislation’s guest-worker program with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

On a conference call with reporters this month, Ana Avendano, who works on immigration issues for the AFL-CIO, said the union saw such positive signs for passage that Mr. Obama should stop most deportations now because the bill likely would give the immigrants legal status.

She also disputed a reporter’s characterization of opponents’ efforts to poke holes in the bill, saying the coalition behind the legislation remains strong.

“It’s dangerous to treat the bill as fragile because it’s not fragile. By treating it as fragile, it really gives the nativists power,” she said.

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